African Proverbs in African Literature

A Critical Resourcebase

Interpretation, 4


Some of the proverbs from Southern Africa are interpreted below.

A. Proverbs from Zimbabwe

1. “If your mouth turns into a knife, it will cut off your lips”:
If you don’t handle your personal life properly, it will create problems for you. It is important for you to know how to use your resources judiciously so that you don’t end up suffering any mishap.

2. “The monkey does not see his own hind parts; he sees his neighbor’s”:
It is difficult for human beings to see and admit their own inadequacies; yet, they don’t hesitate to condemn others over trifles that they readily point to as faults.

B. Proverbs from South Africa

1. “One does not cross a river without getting wet”:
Everything has its own consequences. if you don’t venture into anything, you don’t gain anything. For as long as you know the consequences of your actions, you should be prepared to face them if you want to make any progress in life.

2. “A horse has four legs, yet it often falls”
Perfection is not a human quality.

3. “Copying everybody else all the time, the monkey one day cut his throat”:
If you do what everybody does without considering the implications, you will get into trouble.

C. Proverbs from Lesotho

“It is best to bind up the finger before it is cut”:
Learn to be guarded in your utterances so that you don’t get into trouble. Prevention is better than cure.

D. Proverbs from Madagascar

1. “Indecision is like the stepchild: if he doesn’t wash his hands, he is called dirty; if he does, he is wasting the water”:
If you don’t make the right decisions at the right time, you will always be blamed for the outcome of your actions.


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